Region’s desperate tourism fightback begins with bid to coax back visitors
PUBLISHED: 00:01 23 July 2020
A major drive to revive Norfolk and Suffolk’s shattered £5bn tourist industry has been launched.
The campaign – aimed at putting the counties “top of mind” for UK holidaymakers looking for a Staycation destination – includes a host of measures to bring visitors back safely.
Attractions, hotels, theatres and other tourism businesses across the region have been forced to lay off staff or close after feeling the full force of the coronavirus pandemic.
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But with overseas tourism unlikely to return quickly post-lockdown – and theatres and other cultural venues destined to be among the last to re-open – tourism chiefs see an opportunity to attract people looking to holiday at less crowded resorts.
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Visit East of England have launched a campaign which aims to “reset” how the sector operates through increased digitisation and reskilling and making it more resilient out of season.
The Visitor Economy Recovery Plan also lays the foundations for the area to become a Tourism Zone under a government plan to boost holiday destinations across the country.
Measures include promoting Norfolk and Suffolk as ‘Unexplored England’ to draw visitors looking for undiscovered, less populated areas. Tourism bosses will also adopt a collaborative approach to funding bids through a “Destination Alliance” across authorities.
Experiential and cultural tourism will be at the heart of the recovery plans, with creative industries and other sectors launching innovative and immersive experiences for theatres, zoos and museums.
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Norfolk and Suffolk has one of the largest and fastest-growing local visitor economies in England, employing 89,100 people – 11.3% of the workforce – and supporting 7,050 businesses.
Last year the area attracted more than 80m day-trippers and just under 5m overnight visitors – but the picture this year is much more gloomy.
New Anglia LEP chair Doug Field said the pandemic and lockdown had been “one of the biggest challenges our local visitor economy has ever faced”.
Andy Wood, chairman of Visit East of England, said tourism was a “vital” sector for the region, making the recovery plan “an essential piece of work”.
“As one of the first sectors in and one of the last out of the crisis, it has been hit hard by coronavirus. The sector is an eco-system of thousands of small and medium, often family-owned enterprises that will respond quickly and innovatively as demand returns.”
VisitEngland welcomed the plan. Director Andrew Stokes said it was “encouraging” to see so much engagement.
Theatres and other indoor cultural venues will be some of the last businesses to reopen, and research shows local theatres are projecting an unrecoverable gap of £10m by September 2020.
New Anglia Cultural Board is developing an integrated plan for its recovery.
Chairwoman Helen Wilson said arts and entertainment were facing an uncertain future, and collaboration would be key to their recovery.
“If the visitor economy is to return to the success it has seen in recent years, it is vital that a vibrant cultural sector is able to make a full contribution to that regrowth.”
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